Should freelancers share contacts? A guide to protecting your work

I’ve been freelancing for nearly 15 years. Though it has ebbed and flowed, grown and changed over many seasons, I’ve created a few solid rules that define my working style and lifestyle. One of those is an attitude toward networking. Whether it is the owner of a new hotel opening for a travel piece I’m writing, or one of the many executives I interview for stories on this very blog, staying connected and updated is a core part of my job description. This also requires a positive dynamic with publicists who represent various brands, people and places, and beyond. And of course, last by not least, other journalists.

Perhaps because wordsmith minds think alike, but I’m lucky to have developed many close relationships with other writers, and we serve as each other’s sounding board, gurus and reality checks.

Even so, one of the more complicated aspects of my gig to navigate is referrals. It’s a natural part of any industry, but one that can be tricky for freelancers since our income is all based on the clients we serve. When you share their information, you risk losing some of that steady flow of cash that deposits into your bank account each month. Even so, some moonlighters swear by the power of connection, believing it stimulates more work for both parties.

Though everyone has their own philosophy, understanding what you’re willing to share or trade is a fundamental part of how you operate. Personally? I have a very small list of who I’m willing to discuss contacts with — especially when I’m recommending another person for an opportunity. I do subscribe to the concept of bringing together good people — but I have to know wholeheartedly they are an impressive candidate before passing them along to someone I respect.

Here, other freelancers share how they network while protecting their clients:

Be mindful of who you are bringing together

Freelance writer Isis Briones votes ‘yes’ to sharing contacts since she considers herself someone who relies heavily on networking.

“I strongly believe in good karma. In my experience, people never forget those who help them out,” she explains. “It’s simple if you share contacts: The other person is likely to reciprocate — and maybe even with a connection you need. Plus, it never hurts to have someone owe you one!”

Does that mean Briones hands out information willy-nilly? Definitely not. She stresses the importance of being mindful of who you are putting in touch. While you may want to lend an extra hand (and hope they do the same for you one day), understanding their expertise and experience will ensure you protect your reputation. To do this, keeping company with others in your same realm can be meaningful.

“I recommend surrounding yourself with like-minded freelancers. Without even asking, writers tend to follow my lead once I start sharing contacts. People who have been doing this a long time know the value of community and we look out for each other,” she adds.

Don’t give away what you’re selling

Principal and publicist Sarah Doheny says sharing client information isn’t a recommended path, depending on your industry. For public relations, it can be a tricky slope, since it’s vital to maintain control over your relationships with media and to foster those often delicate foundations.

“Many journalists do not appreciate being contacted repeatedly, and many don’t even like it if you reach out via phone. Anyone in PR knows this, but the average client may not understand or respect that,” she explains.

Though she might be available to offer advice to budding publicists or another agency once her work with a client has passed, she urges freelancers to remember why you’re being paid. If you give out the information, the services or the goods you’re hired to create — they no longer need you.

“You took the time to sell you and your company along with your knowledge to the client, you’re hired now. Why would you give away proprietary information?” she continues. “If you do that, you can sabotage yourself and your integrity to the industry.”

Trade – Just don’t share

President of NB Talent Services, Nicole Pomije, has a philosophy toward freelancing: trade. While giving away an email or making an intro with nothing in return can sometimes make you feel like you’re left hanging and unsure of what will happen next. Or,  if you’ll be given something beneficial in return, when you work with another respected freelancer to both scratch each other’s back, it’s much more comfortable.

“I don’t think there is any harm in helping one another as long as it’s a two-way street. If I have a contact who I know would be interested in a friend or colleagues client I definitely share because I am helping all parties,” she explains. “In my experience, they have always been there to help me in exchange. Sometimes it’s an email introduction and other times it’s simply sharing an email address and they can do with it as they please.”

Keep track of who you know

Most importantly though, Pomije says what will help freelancers the most is managing their contacts in whatever way works for them. While she tends to be more old school with an excel sheet, apps like Circleback or Full Contact make it easier and digital.

“When you first meet a new contact in person, shoot them an email right away, so you are fresh on their mind and you have their information stored. You want that card on the backburner — because, you never know!”